Monday, August 30, 2004

And they're rrrrrrrrracing!!

This will be a marathon campaign, a physical and mental test of endurance. Howard reakons he's got the young bloke's measure, but Latham looks calm and focussed. There'll be plenty of time for the substantial stuff, but first a couple of quickies on the issue of election timing.

This was The Bald Man with The Fat Man on Sunday on Sunday, 15 August:

JOHN HOWARD: A very good start. I think the Australian public are enjoying the Olympics.

LAURIE OAKES: Meaning you won't interrupt them?

JOHN HOWARD: Well, I think they're enjoying it. And I'm - I'm enjoying them and I think the opening was a great triumph for Greece... I think the Games have got off to a wonderful start, and I think there'll be a lot of focus on them now - I'm part of that focus.

Not totally. I've got other things I've got in my mind as well, but I think the public is pretty keen on following the Games at present.


LAURIE OAKES: Now, even though you're not going to interrupt the Olympics with a campaign, I'd like to ask you about the kind of election we can expect. Mark Latham wants three leader debates.


... and now we have an election called 24 hours before the circus packs up and heads to China. Howard didn't say he wouldn't call it during the Games, but he gave the clear impression the Games and the campaign would not overlap. Not quite another John Howard Lie, but perhaps a half-truth, with double-tuck-back-flip-three-point-turn-belly-flop.

At 41 days, this election campaign is the longest in 20 years, and superficially it seems a strange decision. Traditionally, the PM will keep the campaign to the barest minimum, 33 days, since the priveliges of office - and therefore advantage over opponents - are much fewer during the official campaign period.

Hmmm, so why would Howard give Latham 8 days more than necessary to make an impact? The inescapable conclusion is that Howard didn't want parliament to reconvene for the two week session scheduled for this week and next week, and dissolving parliament was the only way to do it. Gutless. The heat was really going to be on Howard over what he knew and what he said during the Children Overboard scandal in 2001, and the scrutiny of parliament would clearly have been unwelcome. Given that the Liberal campaign will focus on truth and integrity in government, it's a very worrying start.

Irshad Manji @ Melbourne Writers Festival - Last Word

There’s an old saying that used to be heard in all sorts of places, that there are two topics that should never be discussed in polite company – politics and religion. What better way to completely disregard that notion than an evening with a fascinating author, Irshad Manji. Manji is a rare breed. She’s a feisty, well considered intellectual with an extraordinary ability to communicate to a range of people from a range of backgrounds on a range of topics – and keep them entertained the whole way through. Her presentation on the closing night at the Melbourne Writers Festival was breathtaking, with the sort of self-assured confidence (though never cocky) that is rarely found in 33 year olds who aren’t the lead singer of a punk band.

It is tempting to describe Manji using only clinical, demographic descriptions, although this completely fails to do her justice. Yep, she’s a 33 year old woman. Lesbian. Canadian. Muslim. With a cool hair cut. But it’s the idea she is expressing that is truly remarkable – that Islam is being held captive by its fundamentalist adherents, and needs to be reclaimed by moderates. The notion itself should not be controversial, since there is ample evidence from recent times which show it to be correct. We live, however, in an era of heightened racial sensitivity, where discussion of religion is supposed to be deferential, absolutely respectful and unambiguously supportive. And also, it seems, intellectually vacuous.

But not for Manji. She has no qualms about laying down a challenge to the fundamentalists who she believes have taken captive of her religion, from the teacher at her childhood Madrassa to the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, all of whom she argues distort the religion for their own purposes. She asks the questions of these figures that should rightfully be asked of any person who claims to have an exclusivity arrangement with Fountain of Knowledge ™. The sort of critical thinking that Manji applies to fundamentalist Islam would be a great service to humanity if it was carried out by those living on the Arab Street, by people who are bullied and persecuted by governments in the name of religion. Hopefully Manji’s ideas will spread beyond the halls of western literary festivals and into the hearts and minds of people who need to be saved from people who claim to be able to save them.

Check out the haircut!

Manji makes it clear that she doesn’t have all the answers. She isn’t presenting a comprehensive, alternative version of her religion to challenge the fundamentalist orthodoxy. Instead she is merely suggesting that an alternative is possible, that the Koran is far from absolute in its view of a range of social issues, and that there is nothing inherently correct about the status quo. The position that Manji takes parallels the movement toward moderation is all monotheistic religions – moderate Judaism and Christianity has challenged the supremacy of their fundamentalist counterparts, and Manji seeks to do the same with Islam. It is a worthy goal, albeit a brave one.

As well as being a fine orator, Manji is a successful author and webmaster, with The Trouble With Islam and being her substantial output. The ideas of Manji are gaining currency, and the world would be a better place if they were to enter the mainstream thinking of Islam’s adherents. At present, unfortunately, it seems that Manji is confined to the margins, dismissed as a mad feminist, a western imperialist and a Jewish sympathiser. As long as she has the freedom and courage to speak her mind, though, she will be the bugbear of those who use religion as a tool of oppression rather than liberation.

Friday, August 27, 2004

A Jean-ius for Brand

Normally candidate biographies are rather naff, inoffensive things with nothing particularly controversial... or persuasive. However, this particular snippet from Greens candidate for Brand, Jean Jenkins, was notable:

Jean was previously an Australian Democrats Senator for WA from 1987 to 1990, but left the Democrats in 1994. She found could not support a Party which foisted John Howard's GST on the people of Australia.

Notable, why? Cos in 1994, Jean decided to leave the Democrats over the issue of the GST. Which wasn't passed until 1999. With foresight like that, the woman is brilliant - and no doubt big Kim is shaking in his loafers. Let's hope Jean doesn't need to withdraw due to unforseen circumstances.

UPDATE - Wednesday, 1 September, 1:20am - As Andrew has pointed out in the comments, the Jean-ius for Brand has changed her candidate biography. Was it as a result of Ariontheweb's unrelenting campaign (eg, one post) or did Jean see the error of her ways without prompting? We'll never know.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Teach em to think

The Australian on Wednesday was in a shit-stirring mood, with a front page story that was bound to be contested and heavily controversial:

Smaller classes don't aid students: REDUCING class sizes does not improve academic performance at primary or secondary school level, according to an unprecedented Australian study that has widespread ramifications for state governments pushing for smaller classes.

Note that the researched was carried out by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research (based at that fine academic institution in Parkville), and NOT by any recognised educational body. In essense, a bunch of economists have decided that any economically rationalist approach to education will produce good outcomes. Good work, chaps.

The fundamental problem with the research is that it only considers easily measurable outcomes - namely the results of standardised academic tests of students. Information that is not included in the research is less quantifiable measurements which show the inherent benefits of a small teacher-student ratio.

As far as can be seen, the MIAESR research failed to include Kid's-Warm-Inner-Glow-Quotients, the Improved-Sense-of-Self-Worth-Percentage or the Reduced-Bullying-Factor, all of which are likely to be aided by having fewer students per teacher, but would not be measured in such research. Instead, a series of narrow, academic indictors were used.

It is always worrying when research which is counter-intuitive presents itself as a statement of truth, and it's even more worrying when this research is taken seriously by policy makers. Kids in big classes are doing it tough, and though the standard of results might not be greatly affected, the quality of school life is. As educational experts, MIAESR make excellent economists.

Seven's September Stuff Stinks

Watching the promos for Seven's September line-up during the Lympics is a welcome reminder as to why commercial television is not worth watching. Okay, I confess that I am not typical of most, and that my tastes are a little more subtle and cynical than the average couch potato, but it's hard enough to watch the promos for this dross, let alone the programmes themself.

Trading Spouses?? Playing it Straight?? Deal or No Deal - the Psychics Special?? A shooting death on Home and Away?? Why not save us the pain and combine the whole lot - A reality game show in which armed psychics have to pick and shoot the gay guy based on their interaction with a family of strangers. Yep. I'd watch that.

UPDATE - Thursday, 26/8, 11:45pm - It looks like yesterday's comment on Seven's fortunes was rather well timed. Just hours later, the Australian and it's excellent Thursday Media section had a savagely critical piece by Mark Day of Seven, and it's mini-Kerry:

This is a critical roll of the dice for Seven, its management, its board and its majority shareholder, Kerry Stokes. In the cold, harsh reality of business, it's time to piss or get off the pot.

Monday, August 23, 2004

But they'd lost it already...

You know a sports story is big news when Lateline devotes 27 of its precious 30 minutes to it. Tonight it was the 'quitter' Sally Robbins in the women's rowing eight. 24 hours after the fact and the media have done it to death, so there's not much point in debating the ins and outs of it now - why not read the dozen pages that Rupert's tabloids will no doubt devote to it in the morning.

The Daily Telegraph went in hard this morning, with this line summing up the editorial position (if a bunch of sports journos drinking ouzo in Athens can be called an 'editorial position'):

It appears as though Robbins has committed the greatest crime there is in honest sport.

She quit.

Lateline also mentioned that Robbins' actions had been described as, wait for it, un-Austalian, but there was no luck tracking it down on the DT website.

BUT, according to a later story...

Coates believes it is un-Australian for athletes to publicly criticise teammates and he expects fellow crew member Julia Wilson – who was vocal in her criticism of Robbins – to apologise.

It's confusing. If quitting is un-Australian, and criticising someone for quitting is un-Australian, then what would be the appropriately patriotic thing to do?? Take your clothes off and pose for Ralph, I guess.

UPDATE - Thursday, 26/8, 12:35am - Yep, as reported on Lateline...
Stuart McLean from Sydney's 'Daily Telegraph' described her as an un-Australian quitter.

The Gay Guv

The coming-out of New Jersey Governor James McGreevey made a bit of a splash with this modest little blog, but little else in the wide-brown-land. Fellow blogger Phil Quin (with a link to the right, I'm proud to say), has an interesting piece from a gay perspective in Monday's Age:

Governor McGreevey appointed a prospective lover as homeland security adviser, a job for which he was no more qualified than my mum (although mum is very good at other things). He used his position and authority to help with his sex life, and then sacked the guy when things turned sour (at least Clinton didn't make Monica secretary of state).

The Governor and his wife.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Friday Night Folly

It's remarkable to think that up until the 1980s, Friday night football didn't exist. Then in the late 1980s, it did, but was nightmarish for those who took part, with poor crowds, low exposure, and cold nights. North Melbourne took it under its wing and developed Friday Night Footy as a desirable product, something innovative and exciting and a step away from the tradition of Saturday afternoons.

Now Friday night is prime time, with live (or close to live) broadcasts nationwide, large crowds, great exposure for sponsors - and Eddie. Given the exposure, therefore, that only Friday nights can bring, the AFL needs to minimise risk and maximise utility. The obvious and sensible way to do this would be to have a mix of teams playing in that slot, giving exposure to all sides and all sponsors and mixing up the product for a loyal audience.

Instead, as the season closes, the AFL have done just the opposite. Collingwood play every Friday night for a month leading up to the finals, and with the exception of a surprise win against Fremantle a fortnight ago, all of the games are likely to be unexciting, unspirited contests. Just the sort of thing that Friday night doesn't need. Of course, it would be churlish to criticise the AFL for not picking that the Pies of 04 would be duds when they were settling the fixture twelve months ago, but it is not unreasonable to criticise them for not minimising risk by fixturing a range of teams into the premium timeslot. That, or the hand of Eddie is at work again.

So either the AFL is under the iron fist of Eddie, or it is making the sort of basic errors that are usually the domain of the Collingwood forward-line. Either way, it's a worry.

Yep, it's Eddie.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

International Politics - Uppers and... whatever

You know you've made it as a global mover and shaker when you crack it for a mention on KCNA (Korean Central News Agency), the official mouthpiece of everyone's favourite Stalinist state:

Kim Yong Nam Meets Australian Foreign Minister
Pyongyang, August 18 (KCNA) -- Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the DPRK Supreme People's Assembly, met and had a friendly talk with Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, who paid a courtesy call on him at the Mansudae Assembly Hall Wednesday. Present there was the party of the foreign minister.
Kim Yong Il, vice-minister of Foreign Affairs, and officials concerned were on hand.

Kim Yong Il?? Kim Yong Il?? He got so close to meeting the Dear Leader, just a single letter off.

It seems that Downer's trip was largely a failure ("Downer N Korea mission fails" declared The Oz). No big diplomatic moves, no closer to restarting six-nation talks, no improvement in human rights for North Koreans, and not even a visit to the head honcho. It was probably not the smartest move to talk about the capacity for Pyongyang to launch a nuclear attack on Sydney just days before leaving, but regardless it seems that the DPRK are not terribly responsive to the outside world.

Before they were famous: Downer in his time as leader of the Federal Liberal Party.

The truth is out there

The evidence is still flowing in, and it doesn't look too good for Howard. There are plenty out there who are convinced that Howard is playing hide-and-seek with the truth, and are keen to nail him. Whether it's evidence of WMD in Iraq, Bali travel warnings or Tampa, there is increasing evidence that Howard has been less than truthful.

Howard loves to play little linguistic games. Read some of his transcripts, and you get a feel for how he likes to twist the words of his interviewer, make promises and commitments that sound grand but are completely empty beneath the edifice. He is a master in logic as well as politics, and he uses this to his advantage. It can be infuriating and make him look like he's dodging the question, but it's a game he loves to play.

Ever wanted to give the guy a fat lip?

The latest allegations relate back to what Howard knew and when regarding the children overboard (or not) on Tampa. The evidence appears pretty conclusive tht Howard had been told unambigiously that children had NOT in fact been thrown overboard, but still went on to parrot the disproven claim as if it was fact. Howard's linguistic gymnastics cannot save him from the popular and inescapable conclusion - John Howard Lies.

This disrespect for the truth will hurt Howard much more than previous accussions made against him. The reason? Truth is a value which is not just respected by his political opponents, who wouldn't vote for him anyway, it is also respected by his own side of politics. Previous accusations ("Howard's racist on refugees...", "Howard's a silly old fart...") only reinforced the views of those who already hated the guy, but did nothing to persuade soft-supporters or swingers. Playing fast and loose with the truth, however, and even your friends want to keep their distance.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004


A painfully tabloid headline landed on my metaphorical front lawn this morning, as The Australian did it's best to show itself as a decent sporting paper:


Yep, all in caps, and a rather ambitious claim given that this century is barely out of nappies. Still, neither is Thorpey (okay, the guy is three days older than me, but between us we have 5 Olympic gold medals). Maybe Bruce McAvaney is moonlighting as a subbie on the late desk at The Oz?

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Green with Envy

As the election draws near, there is more and more attention being given to other aspects of the contest beyond the Latham-vs-Howard battering rams. Significantly, there is likely to be a big shift in the balance of power in the Senate, and the Browns, sorry, the Greens, are likely to be the big winners.

The ABC ran with the headline "Poll gives Greens Senate hope", and that pretty much sums up the substance of the article, based on a Taverner poll which has the Greens primary vote sitting on (a rather generous) 11% in Victoria and NSW.

The reality is that the three Democrats up for re-election, and Senator Lees, will all struggle to retain their seats, and this will reduce the Democrats to four seats in the Senate. The Greens are likely to take up the slack, and are likely to win a Senate seat in each of five states, to add to the two elected in 2001, leaving them with seven in total (well der).

The logic behind this high Green vote is that they have made a big impact in the public mind, beyond their usual constituency and beyond their usual range of issues.

In most states, the Greens first candidate will be ahead of the ALP's third Senate candidate, and with Liberal, Democrats and microparty preferences likely to flow Green ahead of Labor, the prospects look good. The Greens have got plenty of confidence, an army of activists, a consirable cash kitty (courtesy of public funding in previous elections) and will be running candidates in 150 seats around the Commonwealth to support their tilt at the Senate. The state where the Greens will fall short will be South Australia, where organisationally the party is weak and the ALP will be too strong.

The implications of the Greens having the balance of power are far-reaching, and given the likelihood of the outcome, the Greens will thankfully endure the scrutiny that they have managed to evade for so long.

Ridiculousness, Seven style

The circus in Athens has begun, and now it's time for the sport to take centre stage. Not sport of the physical, raise-a-sweat, lose-some-weight, win-some-gold type, but instead sport of the oy-you-can't-show-that-we've-got-the-rights type. Channel 7 have paid about $70 million for the privelige of broadcasting the games, and they are desperate to squeeze every last drop out of their investment, with the IOC as willing assistants (explanation from Sally Jackson in The Oz):

The main restriction on non-rights holders is the so-called "three-by-three-by-three rule", which limits them to showing no more than three minutes of Olympic material in no more than three news programs, which must be at least three hours apart, per day - a total of nine minutes of fresh footage to be spun out over 24 hours.

There's been a fair bit of analysis as to how this will effect the way that the ABC, Nine and Ten (SBS are for the first time inside the tent) cover the games. There's been less focus, however, on the assault on the principles of news and journalism that the restrictive rules represent.

The Olympics are news, and deserve to be treated that way. News is a product that belong to all, and should not and cannot be hoarded by a select group. It is of public interest, and something the public is clearly interested in, and so it is a gross insult for access to footage of news to be restricted. The restrictions do not just control footage of the events themself, but include footage shot in the athletes village, the media centre, and just about anywhere where Olympic-related news might occur. Footage of press conferences with athletes are not open to all broadcasters... accept as part of the peek-a-boo 3x3x3 rule.

Although it is barely tolerable when the focus is on sport alone, it becomes intolerable when stories of drugs/crime/sex/terrorism/politics/corruption begin to emerge, and access to footage and information is restricted. It's a nasty trend, and it is ordinary punters who are the big losers. Sure, Seven need to get value for money from their investment (and gut instinct suggests they paid more than they should) it shouldn't be happening through practices bordering on censorship.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

But the man can govern, can't he??

Just occassionally the world throws up surprises, not just in the things that happen, but in the way that people respond to the things that happen. Whilst we might look around at our fellow human beings and think we can understand their collective psyche, what makes them tick and what's on their mind, there are still shocks that show that you can never read people perfectly.

Take the Governor of New Jersey, James McGreevey... sorry, that's James E. McGreevey... who made this remarkable announcement on Thursday:

Throughout my life, I have grappled with my own identity, who I am. As a young child, I often felt ambivalent about myself, in fact, confused.

And so my truth is that I am a gay American.

What a remarkable, awe-inspiring moment, that a man can come out and say something like this. The sort of moment that gives you hope and a tinge of pride. Until you hear the punchline:

Given the circumstances surrounding the affair and its likely impact upon my family and my ability to govern, I have decided the right course of action is to resign.

The affair in question was an extra-marital gay affair, no worse than Clinton, but the fact that it was gay meant the Governorship was beyond him. Why? Surely, we - collectively - have moved on to the point where we are largely ambivilent about a person's private life, and can respect their abilities to do the job. Coverage after the fact suggested that McGreevey had no choice but to call it quits after he came out, and even Democrats have referred to McGreevey's 'disease'. Statistically, it would be remarkable if there weren't a couple of gay Governors, so no surpise there, but the necessity of a resignation? Surprising and sad. I guess you can be a state Governor if you're a nutty bald wrestler or a sychophantic Hollywood star, but you can't be gay? I'm genuinely surprised.

Read the full text of McGreevey's speech , and some of the disappointing homophobic response.

(Hat tip to for getting me onto the this fascinating little yarn... see crikey, it's not that hard, is it???)

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Education with steak-knives

Catching the train around Melbourne's inner suburbs in the past few weeks, one can't help but notice the mass of advertising of universities, pitched at the school graduates of 2004 who are intending to become Brendan Nelson's guinea pigs in the Brave New World of tertiary education. Competition is fierce in the market, and for the first time in the HECS era, price competition (albeit in a limited form) is a reality. Though there have always been significant differences between institutions in the past, it is only through agressive advertising that these differences are actively promoted.

Take Swinburne University, a product of the early 1990s, and promoting itself as the 'vocational university', whether in the form of the yuppie business graduate making a presentation in an anonymous Asian city, or the pysch graduate getting dirt under the fingernails talking to a group of down-and-out kids. The message is clear, that Swinburne is a means to and end, and a very effective one at that.

Melbourne University, on the other hand, trades on its proud but conservative heritage. No smartarse slogans, gritty human interest angles, instead it is the university crest which is ubiquitous in the uni's advertising.

RMIT, on the other hand, tell us that it is young, hip and fun, and the place to go and play with high tech toys and hang out with beautiful people in the city (or Bundoora).

Also noticable is the University of Tasmania pitching itself to the Melbourne market for the first time. No doubt market-researched to within an inch of its life, the university explicitly mentions that, unlike most universities, UTas will not be increasing it's HECS level. Another advertisement tries to counter the perception that Tassie is boring (well, not if you're the Governor, but I digress) by explaining that it is the place to go for a wild weekend.

This is a maturing market, where the boundries and grounds for competition are being established. The future of universities is specialisation, and niche rather than broad-based institutions, and consumers... sorry, students... need to gain an understanding of the relatives strengths of each of these universities. Over time, students will become more savvy to what each university has to offer, and the marketing will become more subtle. Until then, universities need to wear 'difference' on their sleeve, and their advertising.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

TasGov - Who's Next?

Now that Governor Richard Butler is no longer, and neither Butler nor the people of Tasmania seem particularly disappointed at this outcome, the search is on for the next Queen's Rep in the state of Tassie. The ABC's PM this evening carried a great quote from eminant Taswiegan, RSL Prez Ian Kennett, that in regards to selecting Butler's successor: "They've looked outside the square and it hasn't worked... maybe they need to look inside the triangle now." Boom boom.

It seems like Premier Paul Lennon might be struggling for names, so here are a few suggestions:

1. Peter Hudson. We know what they'd do if Jesus came to Hawthorn, but what would happen if one of the greatest ever goal-kickers headed home to Tasmania?

2. Bob Brown. Just to get the guy out of the Senate and away from the balance of power where he might do some real harm. Think of it as a containment strategy.

3. Greg Barns. Ex-Liberal, now part time Democrat, professional Tasmanian, and with a lot of time on his hands.

4. Honey Bacon. A fitting tribute to her late husband Jim, and dammit, you've just got to love the name.

5. Reggie from Big Brother. At least there was more democracy in the selection of Big Brother evictees than there is in the selection of the Governor.

6. Brian Harradine. An elder statesman with a lot of respect from all sides who would bring dignity and gravitas to the job. (No punchline, that one's serious).

7. Kofi Annan. A man who's more Butler than Butler himself.

UPDATE: 12:55am Thursday, 12/8 - Thanks to Crikey for running this piece in its entirity in its Wednesday e-mail out. No thanks for the lack of attribution though!

UPDATE: 11:15pm Saturday, 14/8 - Now the Tasmanian Times, a fine on-line rag, have jumped on the bandwagon and are also running my work without attribution, and are giving the credit to Crikey - check it out under the heading "Tha Pale Shadow of Machiavelli... and the Governor Book"

UPDATE: 10:30pm Sunday, 15/8 - Thanks to the Tasmanian Times for giving credit for the above piece. All power to TT, a fitting rival to the cosy Rupert monopoly on the Apple Isle.

UPDATE: 11:40pm Tuesday, 17/8 - All clear with crikey( Acknowledgement for using the cute little piece above is now on the website. Now, was it really worth the struggle?

You mean it's not all our own fault?

Just a quote, but it hit the spot with me as an excellent analysis of the past 5 years, in the context of Israel, and the world at large:

This propaganda (anti-Zionism) has been promulgated by the political left, which has appropriated the narrative of Palestinian oppression and malign Jewish power. It has done so because it believes the west is always the oppressor while the third world is always the oppressed. So even if the third world is perpetrating acts of murder against the west, it must have good cause because it is always ‘the victim’ of the west.

Read the full piece by Melanie Phillips here, and thanks to KiwiJewPundit for the tip-off, and also for having an even more unwieldly name than I do.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Your Call, Guv.

A hypothetical:

You're a mad keen republican, and you've done everything you can intellectually to persuade the world of the silliness of a Constitutional Monarchy. You've argued, harangued, persuaded and nothing has worked. Why not expose it's flaws from the inside? Get yourself appointed as one of Her Maj's Reps and do everything you can to undermine the role. Start pontificating loudly about stuff you're not supposed to talk about, cause a stir by no-showing, with, I dunno, the Botswanans, get your Significant Other to act beyond their constitutional role... and see if you can't have a ready made home grown Constitution Crisis. It would be the best possible advertisement for a republic.

Any Harry or Tom can see that, and maybe even Dick as well.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

What makes news?

As I tap away this evening, I can sit relaxed, having read the lead story from the ABC News website and knowing that it represents the most serious and pressing concern hanging over the heads of the folks in the wide-brown-land:

New Olympic hopes for Pittman

World 400 metres hurdles champion, Jana Pittman, is back on track to go to Athens for the Olympic Games.

The athlete has undergone surgery at London's Wellington Hospital.

Oh goody. What a relief. Snore.

Good luck to Jana, and no disrespect to her in doing her best in Athens next week (if she ever gets there), but it is farcical and just a little pathetic that this is worthy of lead-story status. Like most of the sports stories that make it beyond the back page, it is an insignificant and largely irrelevant story, except for the individual involved, of course. It has no greater meaning, no wide implications, no depth, no value beyond its face value. It is not the sort of thing that should be confused with legitimate 'newsworthy' news.

Sport in the news is brain-candy, which should be used sparingly and only as a way to get people to take in politics, war and peace, the intellectual broccoli and brussel sprouts of news, so to speak. The traditional structure of news values sport in about the right quantity - toward the end, with a heavy focus on visuals, and some attempt to create a soap-opera style narrative to put disparate events in context. The confusion of this sporting soap opera with legitimate news is a bad trend, especially if it has infected your ABC.

Jana: Not NewsA more newsworthy Jana.

(If you're in the mood - or bored - why not play a bit of ABC news-lotto and see what's made the top story at

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Jack's going home in the back of a divvy van (Tongeren)

The SMH are running the late-breaking story about the apprehension of long time WA shit-stirrer Jack van Tongeren:

ANM leader in police custody
August 6, 2004 - 8:09PM

Police were tonight questioning white supremacist leader Jack van Tongeren over an alleged plot by his Australian Nationalist Movement (ANM) to harm West Australian Attorney-General Jim McGinty and other high profile community leaders.

Obviously they couldn't fit 'Mad Racist Idiot Crackpot in Police Custody' into the banner headline. Or perhaps it doesn't fit in with the SMH style guide.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Dr Daniel Pipes at Melbourne University

There's no better way to warm up on a wet and wintery Wednesday night in Melbourne than to watch the fireworks (of the metaphoric rather than literal variety, unfortunately) at Melbourne Uni. Tonight the speaker was an excellent American academic Daniel Pipes, whose area of expertise is the Middle East, and provides a particularly refreshing sentimentalism-free perspective on the current dismal state of affairs in that part of the world.

His speech tonight was entitled "Militant Islam and the War on Terror", and enrage the left wing activists on campus it did. The antics started when the audience was forced to endure a throng of 15 placard-bearing activists informing them that there should be a free Palestine, war and racism were bad things and that there should be "No free speech for racists" (of course, it is not entirely clear how it could be determined who was a racist until the coutesy of free speech was extended to them, hence undermining the initial proposition, but I digress). Once inside, there were regular interuptions by the small but vocal group of protesters, although they were just as regularly hissed at by the vast majority of attendees.

Dr Pipes is an ardent conservative, and an interesting and challenging one at that. His proposition - that extremist Islam is a threat to the western world and that this needs to be acknowledged in order for the threat to be averted - is a sensible one, although he reverts to antagnostic language somewhat unnecessarily to stir up the audience. Referring to militant Islam as 'Islamism' is an unfortunate insult to the 85% of the world's Muslims (his figures) who opt for a peaceful, tolerant version of their religion, and who therefore by Dr Pipes definition are not believers in 'Islamism'.

One of the more telling points was his interesting insight into the ardent anti-Americanism and anti-Israeli attitudes that permeate many discussions of International Relations. To Dr Pipes, these should be considered in the realm of psychologists, and studied as a psychological obsession, rather than a political stance. Well said, and the throng of anti-American anti-Zionist anti-West anti-Imperialist anti-capitalist were on hand to demonstrate the point.

All was peaceful and much was learnt by those who were there to listen rather than satisfy their fetish for righteous indignation.

Latham's cat is out of bags

Not doubt octopuses worth of newsprint will be spent analysing the ALP's umming and ahhing over a free trade agreement with the US. Despite the politicking of it, the FTA will be passed, and passed soon.

Here's the logic:

1. The FTA, as do most free trade agreements, provide a net benefit to both parties.
2. The ALP knows that most Australians recognise the benefits of the FTA.
3. The ALP know that the FTA is benefitial to Australia, although it may harm the short term interests of some ALP supporters (ie, Doug Cameron).
4. The ALP knows that in order to keep ALP supporters who are cold on the FTA (see 3, above) on side, they will need to give the impression of standing against some part of it, hence the grandstanding on local content rules and patent rules.

Bottom line - the ALP will grizzle for a bit, and then support it.

And more importantly, what the hell is Latham on about with his mysterious Kilkenny Cats? They made an appearance on Lateline a fortnight ago:

MARK LATHAM: Well, the right wing never give power away easily, that's for sure.

They always fight like Kilkenny cats to hang onto it and they do some pretty crazy things to that effect.

And then they got a run on PM last night...

MARK LATHAM: Our step is to urge the Government to adopt these good amendments to the enabling legislation and then fight and fight and fight in the Senate to make sure that that happens.


MARK LATHAM: We're going to fight like Kilkenny cats to ensure that those amendments go through.

So is Latham going for the Irish Catholic vote? Or perhaps the feline vote?

UPDATE (7 August, about 12:20am): A dedicated member of the Ariontheweb army has gone straight to the source and has flicked the original Kilkenny Cats poem to me. Thanks Tim:

There were once two cats of Kilkenny,
Each thought there was one cat too many:
So they fought and they fit,
And they scratched and they bit,
Till, excepting their nails
And the tips of their tails,
Instead of two cats there weren't any.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Well said!

Kudos to Pamela Bone, a journalist and thinker who is prepared to expose some of the hypocracies and downright silliness of those on the far left, in a way which carries the extra gravitas of knowing that she was, and in some cases still is, one.

Her latest piece comments perceptively that:

In the West, anti-Semitism has migrated from the right to the left (which doesn't mean it has gone from the right).

Bone is correct that Israel cops a horribly unbalanced and unjustified level of criticism. The ills of much of the Arab world are tragic, but are the product of poor governance in those places, the Israel is a convenient fig leaf which masks the true source of those nation's woes.

Read the full piece and rejoice that someone is challenging the collective madness of the anti-Semitic elements of the left.

Seat Watch - Kingston

In 1990, Janine Haines got within a hanging chad of winning the seat of Kingston for the Democrats, and being their first member of the House of Representatives. 14 years later, the party is still waiting to pop its green cherry, to use a bad taste cliche. Nowadays the incumbent is David Cox, a talented but underappreciated Labor front bencher who, along with Bob McMullan, will be crucial to demonstrating Labor's economic credentials.

The seat is held by the slender but defendable margin of 1.3%, halved as a result of the SA redistribution. The Liberal challenger to Cox is, well, um, how do we put this... not known. Well, the Liberal website has obviously recieved ASIO clearance, since it is completely devoid of any reference at all to the candidate (but does contain lots of earthy shots of John Howard in khaki). And type 'Kingston' into, and it's nothing but the Kingston of the Margo variety.

The swing nationwide will be on to the ALP, and the parlous state of the SA Libs won't help. Note that the one and only National in the SA House of Assembly has taken a spot as a minister with a Labor government. Not good signs for the Libs.

Cox to win in a canter.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Let Freedom (of trade) Reign

What a good news day for the entire developing world:

Rich and poor nations struck a historic deal today to slash billions of dollars in farm subsidies, create more open industrial markets and revive stalled world trade talks that could boost global growth.

Note the correlation - the freer the trade, the better off are developing coutries. Much as the discourse of the past 10 years suggests that globalisation is the cause of global poverty, the reality is that it is the lack of globalisation, and indeed the emphasis on individual nations, that has entrenched poverty. It smacks of hypocracy that Australia, Europe and US heavily subsidise and protect their farms from developing-world competition and send billions abroad in foreign aid to the same countries that are being excluded from the marketplace. It seems like we in the developed world would rather treat other countries as a charities than trading partners.

The great competitive advantage held by developing countries is a large pool of cheap labour and vast agricultural land. These are things that are going to help developing countries develop, but only when they can trade with wealthy countries who hold other competitive advantages (technology, infrastructure, good governance). By maintaining tariff walls, wealthy countries are trying to compete on their own turf, and on that of the developing world. It's bad economics, and ultimately it's bad for the state of humanity.

How about this as a solution to developing world poverty - Europe, the US and Australia all pledge their commitment to free markets and remove subsidies, tariffs, quotas and whatever on manufacting and agriculture. Yep. It'll cost jobs. In the First World. But create jobs. In the Third World. And it'll bring down prices and improve resource allocation for all of us.

A very happy birthday

It's August 1, so it's time to wish all the horses of the world a very happy birthday.

All those in favour, say 'aye'. All those opposed.... ah, it doesn't matter.